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Uncertainty For U.S. Permanent Residents Abroad


Kinan Azmeh is a Syrian musician and a green-card holder who has lived in the U.S. for the past 16 years. He's a member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, which tours all around the world. And because he was born in Syria, one of the seven countries whose citizens are currently barred from entering the United States, he's unsure if he will be able to re-enter the country as planned next month.

KINAN AZMEH: I have a concert in Beirut on the 1. So the plan was to leave, go back home right after.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you been in touch with a lawyer? How are you getting your information? You mentioned you're reading articles.

AZMEH: Yes. I mean, the lawyer, actually, who filed for my case when I applied for my green card three years back - she told me that - you know, she wrote back one line, saying it's not looking very good. But, again, also, she mentioned that, you know, things are changing by the minute. So I guess I'm just keeping myself updated as much as I can.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've been in the U.S. for 16 years. That's a long time to put down roots. How are you processing this, the idea that, possibly, you may not be allowed to return?

AZMEH: You know, I've been trying to claim both Damascus and New York as homes. I used to travel back and forth as much as I can, except in the last five years, of course. It's quite a contrast. And processing all of this while preparing to play a Mozart clarinet concerto in a few days - I don't know. Maybe it gives meaning to what I'm doing. But, also, in the meantime, I'm not thinking of the materialistic things.

I think, actually, mostly of the friends and loved ones that I have in New York and in the U.S. in general. And I know that this also shall pass. I try to be optimistic as much as I can. But I'm not allowing my emotional reactions to get in the way. I'm just trying to think, you know, little by little, what I can do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think a moment like that - you mention that it increases your focus on the music. Do you think this will inform your performance?

AZMEH: You know, it just - I continue to believe that making music is an act of freedom. You know, and when I play - even when I'm practicing on my own, I really think this way. But it's quite - today, I had, actually, this flashback. There's a piece that I've written about 12 years ago in 2005 while I was detained at JFK Airport, waiting to be questioned. And I wrote this piece called "Airports."

And back then, I was thinking, you know, all these people are unified only for having a "different passport," quote, unquote. And I thought maybe a - kind of a protest song can unite all of these people. And now it's sad to see that this piece is still relevant today, 12 years later.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much. Kinan Azmeh - he's a Syrian-born musician and a U.S. green card holder. I appreciate your time, sir.

AZMEH: Thank you very much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEWAR'S, "AIRPORTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.